Perhaps it’s because this is my favorite weekend jogging spot that I am guilty of doing what many other people do in overlooking a great place with many interesting things to offer.
Unknown too many tourists who generally head towards more popular but over commercialized locations like Yamashita Park, Negishi Forest Park offers something of an oasis within an otherwise uninspiring urban neighborhood setting.
Known in Japanese as 'Negishi Shinrin Koen', this is one of the largest parks in Yokohama with a surface area covering over 1800 square meters. Originally built as a racing track in 1867, it was home to the first western style horse racing in Japan. However, after the Second World War it was redeveloped into a golf course by occupation forces. Its fortunes were changed once again in 1977 when it was officially opened by Yokohama city as Negishi Forest Park.
When walking around here you will notice many landmarks which will give you a sense of its history. The most obvious one can be found on the park's western side where several impressive grandstands still remain. Numerous signs (written in Japanese), explain that this area was once part of the grand entrance to the stadium. On clear days there are impressive views of Yokohama Landmark Tower and Mount Fuji.
This park can easily be reached by taking either bus 103 or 360 from JR Negishi Station to 'Taki-no-ue' bus stop which drops you off directly in front of the main entrance. The fare is about 200 Yen.
After going through the main entrance you will immediately be spoilt with several options of things to see. I would recommend going to the observation platform first as this will help give you a good sense of the area's geography.
Once you have judged the general layout, walk down a staircase and follow the path on your right until you reach the Equine Museum and Pony Centre, which unsurprisingly contains several ponies and horses. This area is great for kids and horse lovers as it is possible to ride either on the third Sunday of most months from 13:30 pm until 14:20 pm. However, please be aware that there is limited availability so turn up early to avoid disappointment!
Upon entering the park's main section you cannot help but notice how its large oval shape reveals its former status as a race track. Amazingly within the space of 70 years this area has been transformed into beautiful open fields and forests containing a large plum grove as well as a pond and my personal favorite; numerous walking paths which are ideal for jogging.
The walkways around the pond and nearby forests are especially pleasant and good for seeing plants, flowers and wildlife. However, please be sure to look out for sleeping ducks as I have almost trodden on several during my weekend runs!
The vast open fields provide a great place to have a picnic or relax throughout the year. Spring is a great time to come and admire the 350 plus cherry blossom trees, whilst in summer this makes an excellent place to escape the city heat.
Without exception one of this parks best qualities can be found in the fact that it is one of very few places in Yokohama where you can find some genuine peace and tranquility, (except perhaps for some occasional announcements blasted on megaphones telling you not to make too much noise).
If planning to spend several hours here, I would definitely recommend bringing your own food as there aren't any restaurants, food stands or unbelievably, convenience stores within a five minute walk.
Although this may seem a little inconvenient for a country obsessed with convenience, it does highlight one of this park's key qualities in the fact that it has been able to (famous last words), escape the mass commercialism and consumerism which has engulfed far too many other places.